10/08/2012 06:33 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Getting Straight Allies Out of the Closet

Anyone who has been at a political rally has probably heard the cry, "What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!" Truth be told, I think that this whole chant is really off-base. If you asked me, I'd suggest that equality was due years ago; "now!" is entirely past due.

But when I set aside my (many) personal demands for equality, the reality is this: We have a lot of work to do to get it, and we know we can't do it alone. We need the support of straight allies everywhere to make equality a reality. And I'll be honest: I want my allies on the front lines, loud, out, and proud, rainbow flags in hand, demanding things like passage of a fully inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) and marriage equality. So what does it take to ply the passively supportive ally out of the closet and into action? How do we translate a straight ally's feelings of support into meaningful public action? For impatient LGBT people (like me) it takes a moment of stepping back and realizing that our allies need to know that their voices are needed, and that the things they say and do will change the game for people they know. Yes, we need to help straight allies through a process we understand better than anyone: coming out.

Admittedly, for those of us who have come out, the idea of bringing someone (and someone straight) through that process can seem like a lot of extra work. Why is it worth it? Because big changes are happening because of the straight allies who are getting more engaged and in turn engaging the potential allies around them. When we launched PFLAG's Straight for Equality project in 2007, research revealed that six in 10 people in the U.S. personally knew someone who was LGBT. Today, five years later, that number is now eight in 10 (and we not-so-secretly contend that the other two just don't yet know that they know an LGBT person). What would happen if we could get all 10 of those people to actually come out about their personal connections and learn that just saying "I've got a gay friend" isn't enough? What if they all knew that this connection needs to translate into action? The good news is that it can -- and will -- happen if we provide ways for all these potential allies to find their ally paths, get the resources that they need to come out, and, ultimately, change our world.

Through Straight for Equality, PFLAG National is committed to a mission of inviting allies to be a part of this effort, educating them so that they know how to talk about the issues, and engaging them by providing specific actions that they can take that clarify what "being supportive" means. So whether we're dealing with the new ally who says the word "gay" and realizes that the sky won't fall, the ally who joins an LGBT Employee Resource Group at work, or the ally who is leading a PFLAG chapter, all have access to resources that speak to them and support them, right where they are, to help them move further into engagement.

To provide those tools in an easy-to-access manner, today, Oct. 8, in honor of the upcoming National Coming Out Day, we are launching a new resource for straight allies: the Straight for Equality Ally Spectrum, where allies can find the tools to help them come out.

For LGBT people and super allies, the choice to see allies on a spectrum didn't happen without debate. Why should we be supporting people who aren't out in the streets with their rainbow flags? Why should we give people time to become more comfortable with joining us for advocacy work like participation in a lobby day? The answer, in the end, was simple: because we can't afford to not have them with us. Our PFLAG roots helped seal the deal: Ask some of the most exuberant PFLAG parents you'll meet about their first PFLAG meeting. Most will tell you that they looked nothing like the activists they are today. But someone helped them recognize and overcome their barriers to support, and now they're among the most powerful advocates for equality out there.

Meanwhile, I'll continue my cry for wanting equality sometime last week, but while I'm doing it I'm going to spend National Coming Out Day helping a few allies get out of those closets and into their workplaces, faith communities, schools, and family gatherings with their own messages of equality.

Know a potential ally? Of course you do. Invite them to check out this new resource at Are there still people you haven't come out to? Get thee out of the closet, and point your friends to these resources to help them get engaged.